Digital Textbook Codes Mean No Selling Used Books, Higher Prices

Image courtesy of Ben Balter

While the price of course materials has fallen overall, there’s one specific course material that’s pricey and possibly unexpected. Digital content codes give students access to materials like quizzes, study materials and digital-only extra books, but much like digital music or ebooks, they can’t be exchanged or resold. That means publishers set the price, and there’s no secondary market.

The Student Public Interest Research Groups analyzed course materials at ten colleges of diverse types, and found that codes usually cost about $100 by themselves from campus bookstores, and $126 when they come in a bundle with a textbook.

The New York Times spoke to one student, for example, whose Italian textbook was stolen along with the rest of her bag. The bookstore and book publisher hadn’t accounted for this, and told her that the only choice was to buy a new book.

The codes are a nice continuing, year-after-year revenue stream for publishers, but that shouldn’t be your problem if you’re a student. If you encounter a situation where you or your child can’t afford a code that goes along with a book, check with the instructor: there may be an alternate way to get the same materials.

A New Cost at College: Digital Access Codes

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